That First Grade Teacher – An Homage to Teachers


Reflecting Back Reminds Us of the Powerful Role Teachers Play in Our Lives

Unless you have children in school, you may forget about teachers for long stretches of time. You don’t see them, don’t have the opportunity to talk with many of them. But over the last year or so, teachers have reminded us they are here. Teachers have been on strike from coast to coast, in a desperate effort to get justice on many fronts. For the most part, the tactic has worked. It is forcing governors and legislators to recognize the vital role these people serve.

It is a long, slow slog to get things right. Teacher pay is simply too low in too many places. In addition, I cannot remember the last time I met a teacher that was not paying out of pocket for school supplies. This last point should drive us all into fits of rage. Yet, it continues as a national trend. In 2016, Stephen Colbert announced that he was going to pay for every school project request in his home state of South Carolina. Colbert is a member of the Donors Choose board of directors. Donors Chooseis a crowd funding program underwriting school costs. (

Colbert’s act of kindness set off a movement that became #BestSchoolDay. People give millions to fund school supplies and projects. Great! But why are we resorting to such devices for basic needs? Teachers – and students – deserve better.

All this is by way of introducing the observation that I am reminded of how important teachers are in our lives. I still remember vividly my first-grade teacher and the environment she set. Ms. Harriet Orr was an outgoing, gracious, unflappable woman. At the age of 7 myself, I estimated she was somewhere between 80 and the age of a dinosaur. She probably was in her 40s.

Ms. Orr never missed an opportunity to celebrate success and good effort. She encouraged curiosity and enthusiasm. She dealt with discipline problems firmly but civilly. She sought to make the individual child a partner in correcting the situation. She provided every day an example of exemplary teaching and joyful learning.

I have always, since I can remember, considered myself curious and a student of life. I like a challenge. I don’t mind stumbling along the way. I celebrate knowledge. There are a lot of reasons for that profile, but the more I reflect on it, the more convinced I am that I owe much of that to Ms. Orr. She started me out in the best way possible.

If you are like me, I bet that you also could think of a handful of teachers who really stood out. They influenced your life in profound ways. I can think of some, ranging from elementary school through college. I can only hope they know or knew how many flames of life their sparks lit. Fortunately, I recognized that contribution at the time for at least some of them. I was able to look them in the eye and say, “Thank you. You made a difference I will always appreciate. I will put what you taught me, and how you taught me, to good use.”

For those that I missed and those I never knew, this blog is for you. From all of us – Thank you.

       Bill Clontz

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